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Review: The Good German (2006)

The Good German (2006)

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Premise: In post World War II Germany, an American military journalist (George Clooney) is tangled in a murder investigation involving his former lover (Cate Blanchett) and his driver (Tobey Maguire).

What Works: Steven Soderbergh is often regarded for his visual style and The Good German is a great example of that. Shot in black and white, Soderbergh attempts to invoke hardboiled detective stories and film noir pictures and in its design the film succeeds.

What Doesn’t: Despite its visual savvy, The Good German is not a particularly good film. The mystery story imitates pictures like The Maltese Falcon but it is never really compelling. Despite considerable effort, Blanchett’s femme fatale role does not have the kind of ambiguousness that makes characters like hers work in films like this. The main inspiration of The Good German is Casablanca, but The Good German does not have the sharp dialogue, rich texture, or subtle character development that makes Casablanca one of the most highly regarded films of all time. Traffic aside, one of Soderbergh’s major weakness throughout his filmography has been his attempts to be seedy or deal with the taboo. He simply does not do very well with this kind of material; compare The Good German to David Fincher’s Se7en and the weakness becomes clear. 

Bottom Line: The Good German is another tribute film to a bygone genre or style. What plagues many of these tribute movies is that they depend too much on imitating the past rather than translating that past style into a contemporary form. Where Kill Bill and Raiders of the Lost Ark took elements from their inspirations and then combined them with contemporary filmmaking sensibilities, The Good German fails to do that and ends up a weak imitation of its predecessors rather than a tribute.

Episode: #127 (January 28, 2007)